From a mathematical perspective, the correct answer will depend on several variables: page format, font size, and style. Assuming we are talking about a standard A4 page format and some reasonable (most common) font styles and sizes, such as Areal, Calibri, Times New Roman, etc., and in most commonly used font sizes in academic writing ranging from 11 to 14. The math will differ significantly within that font range:
- with 11 font-size there will be about 600 words per page totaling to 3000 words on 5 pages;
- in the case of the 12 size font, a standard A4 page will have around 500 words. That is 5 pages will have as many as 2500 words;
- with a 14 size font, there will be approximately 300 words per page, totaling to 1500 words on 5 pages.
A usual length of an essay is somewhere between 1000-1200 words or 2 pages. Nevertheless, substantial deviations are not rare. For instance, admissions essays are often much shorter in length than other types of academic essays. They may be as brief as 300 words. As a senior one may be tasked to compose a story of up to 3-5 pages long. All in all, 5 pages are perhaps the absolute maximum for a length of an average academic essay.
However, it is not rare for students to cheat by fulfilling the 5 pages requirements with abnormally large font size. In that case, they must either have an outstanding essay story on those 5 pages (the number of words used becomes a less significant factor) or that their tutors must have a very good sense of humor to appreciate such a frivolity. Ideally, for them, both prerequisites should be in place.
As senior students, we are expected to show a decent amount of critical thinking and analytical reasoning in our essay assignments. This is when the requirements of 5 pages and 3000 words essays come in place. By giving such extended tasks, tutors aim to prepare seniors for graduate studies, theses, and dissertations. Fair to note, though, that a decent portion of the 5 pages essay should be dedicated to referencing other’s works to support one’s claims. On average 1 reference per every 200 words of the main body (that is, excluding introduction and conclusion).
Far more important than the number of words and pages is to make sure students maintain a proper essay structure with an introduction, main body, and conclusion. Sometimes it is enough to place these three parts into a separate paragraph each, however, a much better practice would be to make at least 15-20 paragraphs in a 5 pages essay.
In essay writing, one should not be overly academic and strict about rules. An essay is a highly creative piece of work and if we start stuffing our minds with rules and limitations from the very beginning this is not the right way to approach essays. By asking us to compose an essay tutors want to see beyond our academic grades and numbers. An essay is a chance for us to show how creative we are, by laying down our writing in a form of a beautiful story, which is inspiring and informal.
We should only come back to the number of pages, words, and other technical requirements once we have finished our main work of creating an engaging story. After all, if an essay hits the target audience right into their hearts and minds with inspiring ideas and eloquent style, no tutor is going to blame the author for writing slightly fewer words or pages or formatting the work not according to the template.